Rum Journal: Tasting Martinique’s Rhum HSE XO

Above: Habitation Saint-Etienne in Martinique

You may not have heard of it.

Indeed, beyond Martinique and the Metropole, it remains far under the radar.

But there’s a rhum from Martinique that needs your immediate attention.

Without a US distributor (yet), the work of Martinique’s terrific Habitation Saint-Etienne plantation is a bit hard to find, unless you’re in Martinique or in certain corners of French St Martin.

But, as with things of great value, the search is often worth it.

HSE, set in the lush, green Gros Morne district of Martinique, has long been one of the most creative distilleries in the French Caribbean.

And on an island where the appellation of origin rules are rather strict for making rhum agricole, HSE has never been shy about trying new things.

Experiments like finishing rhum agricole in Spanish sherry casks and malt whiskey barrels that has earned the distiller acclaim.

But HSE’s classic, faithful agricoles are equally serious endeavours.

Above: HSE XO

Above: HSE XO

That brings us to one of the brand’s masterworks, the HSE XO.

This black-boxed, extra-old bottle comes from a selection of vintages dating all the way back to 1960.

The rhum, which is aged in oak barrels, has a slightly dark amber color.

The aroma is dominated by cocoa, caramel and brown sugar.

On the palate, the XO shows notes of cocoa, dark chocolate, pepper and a hint of bourbon.

The finish is round but robust.

This is not a “soft” rum, as many old rums can be. This is a bold, brash and proud spirit with the energy of a far younger spirit — and the maturity of something decades older.

The combination is something remarkable indeed.

— CJ

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